My Frugal Reality Check

posted by Andrea | 03/15/2013

one penny

I love sharing simple ideas and tips to save money on almost everything; however, I felt like I needed to write this post — just as a “reality check” for those of us (myself included) that might get a little too carried away, trying to save EVERY. SINGLE. PENNY.

Most of the time, I’d say that a little extra work is worth it to save a buck or two — and those pennies and dollars WILL add up over the course of a month or a year.

But when saving every single penny starts to stress you out or cause you to waste more time and energy in the process, it’s probably not worth it.

If you also enjoy saving, you can probably relate to these crazy {and very true} stories from my own life!

1. Special Grocery Discounts

The only credit card we have offers a special promotion of 5% off groceries on random days throughout the year. So whenever these special days are announced, I always try to make that day the day I get groceries.

Often times, these special days fall on Monday — which is when I try to get groceries anyway, so it works out nicely. However, the most recent 5% off day was on a Saturday… and I absolutely HATE getting groceries on Saturday. Not only is Saturday the day when Dave is actually home (so I can get lots of things done around the house), the stores are a zoo on Saturdays because that’s when everyone gets groceries.

I can’t even tell you the last time I stepped foot in a grocery store on a Saturday — but there I was, contemplating if I could rearrange my schedule and wait until Saturday to get groceries. Besides milk, we wouldn’t have run out of anything… but I knew the store would be even busier than a normal Saturday because of the 5% off deal. Yet I still felt like I HAD to go on Saturday to capitalize on that extra savings.

Thankfully, after crunching some numbers, I realized how ridiculous I was being. Since I rarely spend more than $50 a week on groceries, a 5% savings would add up to $2.50 or less — and that tiny amount definitely wasn’t worth wasting precious productive hours on a Saturday or dealing with the crazy crowds.

Instead, I got groceries on Monday like I always do, and enjoyed the fully stocked shelves and empty checkout lanes!

2. Amazon.com Shipping

I frequently shop online — mainly from Amazon.com. It’s so much easier than going to the store and I can almost always get free shipping if I wait until I compile $25 or more.

However, a few weeks ago, I really needed to order a small item for one of our strollers. It was only about $5, but I had nothing else to buy and couldn’t get free shipping unless I added $20 more to my cart.

Shipping was only another $3.00 — but still, I NEVER pay shipping. EVER!

I thought about driving around to different stores to try and find it, but then realized I would waste so much time, Nora would be cranky, and I would certainly go through more than $3.00 worth of gas…

So I paid the shipping. It was worth the extra $3.00!

(I do know that I can get free shipping with Amazon Prime or Amazon Mom, but my free trial is up and I don’t want to pay the $80 per year since this was the first time I’ve ever paid for shipping.)

3. Passing Up Freebies

I love free stuff as much as anyone — probably more. So when I get those $10 off any purchase coupons from JCPenny’s, Victoria’s Secret, and other stores in the mall, I feel like I just HAVE to use them.

For the most part, I’m extremely diligent and only spend $10 -$12 total — so less than $2 after the coupon. I do still have the time and gas involved to get to the mall… not to mention the probability that once I was in the mall, I would most likely have to check out a few other stores (or the food court), but I figure it’s worth it to get potential freebie items.

However, about a month ago, I knowingly let one of those coupons expire. I didn’t need anything, I didn’t feel like braving the snowy roads and dealing with a crabby baby to browse, and I just didn’t care.

Since then, I’ve decided that if I have the time, if I’m going to be at the mall for something else, or if I specifically need something from a store with a $10 coupon, I will go and use it. If not, I’ll either give the coupon to a friend/family member or it will expire (and then I’ll enjoy the extra space in my closet!)

4. Gas

This is a biggie –especially for me.

Even though I KNOW that an increase of $0.10 will only amount to a $2.00 savings for a full tank of gas; my blood still boils when I see the price jump. SO many times (way too many times) I’ve driven to a different gas station to get the lower price.

Yes. I know. It’s ridiculous.

I’ve wasted time, energy, stress, and more gas in attempts to save a dollar or two.

But over the past year, I’ve decided that it just doesn’t matter. It often takes me 2 weeks or more to go through one tank of gas, so whenever my tank is getting low, I fill up. I honestly try not to even look at the price anymore because that $0.50 or $2.00 just doesn’t matter.

I realize that by admitting my internal struggles over mere pennies, many of you might think I’m insane. I’m OK with that — because most of the time, that overly-frugal voice in my head prevents me from spending money needlessly.

But every once in a while, I need a quick reality check to realize that going out of my way to save $2 or $3 is just NOT worth it.

I’m still an advocate for saving, no matter how small the amount. Just make sure that small savings doesn’t cause you more time and stress than it’s worth!

Please tell me I’m not the only one with these crazy stories?

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41 comments

  1. Megan @ Rappsody in Rooms

    03/15/2013

    I actually LOVE this post and completely relate. I am a huge stickler about making every penny count but it does get a bit ridiculous. We still have to live! I think this is a great reality check.

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  2. Cathy

    03/15/2013

    You’re not the only one! Glad I’m not the only one! My husband tells me these same things almost every time I want to do one of the things you talked about to save a little money. Sometimes I can convince myself to let it go and sometimes not. Now, after reading your post maybe I can talk myself out of using a special deal just for the sake of using a coupon etc. Thanks for sharing.

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  3. Christina

    03/15/2013

    I have multi-millionaires in my family and this is HOW they got there! Yes, this is frugal, but being hyper aware of your money and where it goes is how you KEEP your money. You MUST be aware of your incoming and outgoing money. You are would stunned at the amount of people that have absolutely no concept on what goes in or out in a just one month. This is extreme, however… it will take you places further in life, & it’s what works for you. Be proud of where you are at! Saving is smart! It DOES add up!

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  4. Julie

    03/15/2013

    You are not the only one!!! I love this post!! I try had to not get every deal, but not at the expense of my sanity or added expense of gas!

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  5. Pamela

    03/15/2013

    Yup, I’m on that same journey. Having a baby or two curbs this however, because the STRESS of chasing deals with tired, hungry, crabby kids is just. not. worth. it. I don’t want my kids to remember Mama chasing deals at their expense. Teaches them the wrong thing…. Yes, frugality is great, but people are more important, oneself included.

    I love your blog and am so eager to find out its new name. When is that coming?

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  6. Kalyn Brooke

    03/15/2013

    Its so refreshing to hear other frugals admit this. I have felt so guilty letting those coupons expire. In fact, the other day I went to the mall for a pretzel and realized I left my BOGO coupon at home. And I seriously contemplated turning back for it. Crazy! I’m glad I came to my senses and let that one go.

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  7. Gen

    03/15/2013

    Oh man, those stores and companies think they’re being so sneaky and playing with our minds making us think we are saving money with coupons. Unless you actually absolutely NEED something, coupons are useless and will cost you more (I’m not talking groceries coupons, though sometimes that applies too. We don’t have the coupon craze in Canada like you guys do in the US). Reality check indeed! You need to actually SPEND money to SAVE money? Seriously? Sadly many people fall in their traps, probably everyone at one point or an other. Well said, Andrea, well said. I think this is when it’s important to make an ongoing list of things you think you need, which you can probably go without for a little bit longer, and keep a lookout for those coupons or deals.
    I think the gas point is the strongest, and so so so true! How many times have I made a detour for like less than 5 cents difference? Too many! Though I barely drive right now, this is something I need to remember for the future! Thanks!

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    Amber Reply:

    Gen, you are 100% correct! Often, the grocery coupons are for unhealthy items – junk food & processed foods – so technically they’re unnecessary, too. :)

    As for the gas, we have discovered a small station that is consistently less expensive than the others in our area. Is out worth the detour? Yes, but only because it’s a mere 1 block off our daily route for daycare drop off/pick up. Otherwise, it would be worth it.

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  8. Brenda @ a farmgirl's dabbles

    03/15/2013

    This post totally confirms why I love you so much. I totally “got” everything you said. Guess I’m crazy, too. :)

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  9. Carissa

    03/15/2013

    Did you know that you can ‘share’ an Amazon Prime account. Had a free trial account last year. Let it expire, and Amazon then offered Prime at 1/2 price. We jumped on it. Next year we plan to see if any of our close friends/family will want to split the cost with us.

    http://lifehacker.com/5926298/share-your-amazon-prime-two+day-shipping-with-four-people

    http://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html/?nodeId=200444180

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    Kristen @ Joyfullythriving Reply:

    I did NOT know this, and am going to look into it this more! Thanks, Carissa!

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  10. Bethany McDonnell

    03/15/2013

    Thanks for this post. Yes, sometimes we can get so stressed out trying to save money and it’s just not worth it. My husband always tells me that my time is worth something too.

    And by the way, we have Amazon Prime and LOVE IT! because we can order books/supplies for our business, stuff for us, and use the Instant Video on our Roku (that we got for free!) as alternative to cable and Netflix. Don’t know if it has saved us money, but its saved us time/hassle and provided our entertainment for the year.

    Love your blog! I read it almost every day!

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  11. Liz

    03/15/2013

    A solution for your next amazon shipping issue…light bulbs, batteries or even toilet paper.

    I keep a list of items that we kinda sorta need soon, and add those to my cart to qualify for free shipping.

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  12. Melissa

    03/15/2013

    :) Yes, I have my share of stories like that too. We have a local grocery store that puts different items on sale every Friday for $5. It’s their ‘Five dollar Friday’ sale. Last week I had an increadibly packed schedule for Friday, but the brand of hair color we use was on special AND I had several $2 off coupons on that brand so I could have stocked up at the price of $3 each. But I had to think it over a few times and came up with that I really would have to put myself through a lot of additional stress and trouble to make it to the store that day since my schedule truly was crazy full already. After a little bit of anxiety I decided to relax and ‘allow myself’ to skip this one. Afterall, another store had it on sale through Wednesday for $6 a box and with my coupons I’d only be paying $4 (which is only an additional dollar) but I’d be able to pick it up at a time that made sense for me.

    This Friday their sale was for $5 for 20lbs of kitty litter in the brand we use. My schedule wasn’t nearly so nuts so I left the house 15 min early this morning and picked up the sale item on my drive into work. I decided that I really do need to evaluate my schedule/stress levels before determining if a sale is ‘worth it’ even if it is something we use at a smoking deal. I try to pinch every penny to pay off my student loans faster so sometimes I definitely need to remind myself that it’s okay not to hit every great deal on something we use if it’s going to eat up too much of my time or sanity!

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  13. Demaroge

    03/15/2013

    My husband does this all the time! He wants to drive 5 miles away to get a $.02 discount on fuel. He does drive a lot for his work, I give him that much; but it is still a small amount per tank. He gets 40+ miles per gallon, too, so that makes the difference even less significant.

    I get frustrated when I forget about coupons or they expire. However, I often do not need the item anyway. I only have 1 child at home now. Our shopping needs are small. I try to find the best deal on items I need when I need them … and let it go at that.

    I recently tried using coupons (again) and they expired very quickly. It was difficult to match them to the current sales (because they expired so quickly) and I didn’t need or even use most of the products. So …. not a good use of the money I spent to buy the paper.

    I am now living with the policy: spend the least amount I can on what I need to buy currently …. and I do so without stressing myself out over it.

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  14. Katie

    03/15/2013

    I use Gas Buddy on my phone to look for gas prices, then I go to the closest station or if I’m out running I will go to the one that is less money if it’s on my way. It’s amazing how the price can be so different in 1 block.

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  15. Megan @ Monroe Makeshift

    03/15/2013

    I’m the same way! And like you, I’ve realized that some deals just aren’t worth it. I use gas buddy to find cheap gas that’s already on my route, but I’d never go more than a block or two out of my way to get cheaper gas. I save coupons, but don’t beat myself up if I don’t get to using them. And we try to use Groupon deals for date nights as much as possible. We’ve found that a lot of money saving tricks just aren’t worth the time!

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  16. Heidi

    03/15/2013

    Ditto here!

    I will get bummed out I missed a sale or some other thing like you listed and then realize it is a difference of less than $5; it is so important to realize that time is money and if something isn’t going to be somewhat easy to do than it is NOT a good bargain. I’d rather spend that time/money on playing with my kids ;)

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  17. christina f

    03/15/2013

    I am always having an argument about this with my husband, because I just don’t want the hassle of driving around looking for cheaper gas. With such limited time, the hassle factor is a big deal.

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  18. Mara @ Super Savings

    03/15/2013

    I have the same internal struggles!! My husband is often my “voice of reason” when he reminds me how much we would spend in gas to get to a store, or how going to a different gas station to save a few pennies is only going to add up to $1-$2 (depending on how much we need).
    Thanks for sharing – it’s good to know you’re not alone in trying to keep a healthy balance! =) I’m going to share your link with my readers. It’s such a great reminder!

    ~ Mara

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  19. Mara @ Super Savings

    03/15/2013

    Oh! And FYI, Kohl’s honors expired Kohl’s Cash and their $10/$10 coupons! =) So, no biggie if you miss those, don’t stress out, but don’t throw them away either!

    ~ Mara

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    Debby Reply:

    Thank you Andrea, for such a great post. I will have my husband read this. We try to be frugal within reason. He is such a stickler about the gas. He buys gas at a station that gives a 10 cent discount per gallon with a pre paid gas card. However, the pre paid gas card has to be bought with cash at a discount drugstore. That means a trip to the ATM since I use a debit card for most purchases and then that specific gas station. I routinely stop at a little gas station that is on my way home that is usually 5 cent less than the place he buys gas. So maybe with a 20 gallon fill up I would save a dollar. But not really, because his gas station isn’t on my way home and it’s harder to exit. LOL I am so sharing this with him. Maybe he will see the “light”. Or maybe not. Whichever, I still like the mom and pop gas station in my quiet little Township. :)

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  20. Cammy@TippyToeDiet

    03/15/2013

    I had to giggle when I saw this post. While on vacation last year, I worked myself into a minor tizzy when I found gas to be $0.20/gallon higher at my destination. Fortunately, my father pointed out that it probably increased the total cost of my vacation by $6.00. :)

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  21. Sandy K

    03/15/2013

    You’re not alone. I’m changed my way of thinking also.

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  22. Kristen @ Joyfullythriving

    03/15/2013

    I laughed, because I think the same way and am changing my thinking, too. Frugalness is wonderful, but as my husband likes to point out, money is only money.

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  23. Cassandra

    03/15/2013

    I could have written this;)

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  24. Kristin

    03/15/2013

    Thanks for writing this post. I’m pregnant and struggling with nausea of all sorts. It kills me that we’re not saving as much because we’re eating out, but Mama can’t cook. My two year old needs me more than she needs a sweet grocery sale. I also know that this is a season and we won’t be take-out experts forever. Additionally, I keep looking at our well stocked freezer and pantry as lovely bonuses when baby is born.

    Number 3 is definitely one I’ve learned to let go. It was hard, but so worth it. And your point about enjoying the extra space in my closet and drawers… so very true.

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  25. Caroline

    03/15/2013

    I’ve become more lax over the year and have really thought about what I’m saving. I use to travel to four-five grocery stores for my weekly shopping (four close together and one four miles in the opposite direction) and now I rarely go to more than one. Even if it’s just across the street, parking and walking through another store to save twenty cents on a few items just doesn’t seem worth it.

    I also use the Gas Buddy app that someone mentioned above. I have a long commute and the price of gas really varies along the way! I try to get the best price I can but will not drive out of my way to fill up my tank. What frustrates me is the price fluctuation from day to day or even hour to hour! The price at the gas station near my office increased FORTY cents in just an afternoon!!

    What’s been great for my sanity is giving myself a spending allowance. I do not have any debt and save a significant amount of my income. I set aside money each month and I’m allowed to spend it any way I choose. Being frugal, I still look for deals to get the most of it but there is no guilt with how the money is spent each month.

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  26. Mary

    03/15/2013

    I love this post so thanks as I feel I can relate to this too. Sometimes you do just need to relax a bit or you could drive yourself crazy!!

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  27. Rebecca

    03/16/2013

    I have learned to let the little grocery coupons go by the wayside, especially if they don’t fit into the menu plan.
    What I have really started to realize is that I do not have to maximize use of every KOHLS couppon, discount card, etc. that comes down the pike. I do try to use Kohls cash when I have it (since I basically bought an item based on getting it), but I can walk around Kohls for a long time and not be able to select anything! What a waste of time!

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  28. Maria

    03/16/2013

    I totally agree with your post – especially the one regarding grocery discounts and not shopping on Saturdays.

    However, my mistake was going to thrift stores and buying something to resell on e-bay. I’ve done this a couple of times and totally regretted it because I found the time spent in trying to sell the item, packaging and mailing it, is not really worth it! A couple of times, I just ended up donating the item as I didn’t think it was worth the trouble. So unless someone has lots of time on their hands or really knows the price an item is worth, I don’t think its worth the trouble.

    I also woudn’t waste time purchasing clothing at thrift stores ( here in Canada we have Value Village and Talize) as they are so over-priced. For example, I once saw some jeans for $14.00 in Value Village, which I’m sure you could buy on sale at Old Navy for close to that amount if not less! Also, there’s a lot of time wasted in searching for clothing at thrift stores because you have to really check over the item for stains, tears, or some other defect. Plus now with the bedbug controversy , I would definitely not buy any clothing at thrift stores. So needless to say, I no longer go to thrift stores (or garage sales) for used clothing items.

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  29. Amy

    03/17/2013

    I once read a blog post wherein the writer drive ALL over town to get a few items for a diy project to save money. She had to have spent way more on fuel and time than just buying the thing she was making. It’s easy to do. I’ve definitely had those internal struggles like those you wrote about here. That’s why I love your blog. You’re so grounded and practical.

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  30. Patty@homemakersdaily.com

    03/18/2013

    You’re absolutely NOT! I’ve wrestled with some of those same things. When you think about it generally, it seems foolish not to take advantage of whatever deal you’re considering. But when you run the numbers, they don’t always add up.

    It’s a wise woman who can see that and do what works for her even if it might not seem to make sense to others.

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  31. Jessica

    03/21/2013

    My favorite so far is that you had to force yourself to pay the $3.99 for the magazine that YOU WERE IN! ;)

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  32. Julie

    03/23/2013

    My favorite story was “stocking up” on clearance condiments (at the end of the summer when the bonus sizes are marked down at Target). I just recently threw away some that had expired. Lesson — a two person family should not watch Extremely Couponing because who really needs ten botles of ketchup?!?!?!?

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    Allison Reply:

    I was on such a coupon high that when I could get the 2lb bottles of ketchup for $0.40, I bought 10. I now bring one to my friend’s whenever we have an informal get together.
    So ridiculous. I should’ve just gotten 2.

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  33. Felecia

    03/26/2013

    You are not alone! I have been there too! Love your blog. : )

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  34. Shanna

    07/21/2013

    I’m thankful for your blog! My husband and I live in Japan where the cost of living is much higher, especially electricity. Our “bad frugal habit” is that we unplug EVERYTHING in between uses. Additionally, outlets aren’t in convenient places in our house, which means we have to plug things in by walking extension cords around the house. Our guests are always confused why they can’t get the oven or microwave to work right away. :-)

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  35. erin @ slimsavers.com

    08/01/2013

    I ALWAYS weigh in my time. Time is money, and mine is valuable.

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  36. Kelekona

    08/21/2013

    You have to run the entire formula, which weighs all the involved costs, including sanity and time. Also remember that just because homemakers don’t do wage break-downs, their time is not worthless.

    Making enchiladas from scratch is cheap, and many of the ingredients are shelf-stable, but many people don’t even make them for the freezer unless they want the healthy version. Popping a commercially-frozen tray of dinner into the oven is worth more than earning the money they spent on it.

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  37. Theresa

    10/10/2014

    I can absolutely relate to every single thing you said. You are NOT the only one out there that does this!!! :-)

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